Season Kickoff

Quite an attractive group (Chicago Blade Runners, 2012)

On Saturday, I kicked off my race season with the Chicago Blade Runners, a local group of amputee runners that participates in several races throughout the year.  I joined 15 other Blade Runners for the Bunny Rock 5K along the Chicago lakefront.  While the name of the race sounds like an Easter-themed dance that they have in third grade, the goodie bag comes with bunny ears, frat boy sunglasses, and marshmallow Peeps, so by my standards, it’s a pretty cool race.  More importantly, this race was the one-year anniversary of my first-ever 5K.  Now anniversaries of all sorts are always poignant for me, and they always seem to impact me more than any average person.  I guess I like to use them as an opportunity for reflection, as if I don’t do enough of it already.  Anyway, this anniversary was no exception, and I found myself thinking a lot about just how amazing this year has been for me and running.

I will never forget the first time that I used a running leg back in February 2011.  It was my first time visiting Scheck & Sires and my first time meeting Dave and Melissa.  After I told them that I wanted to do a triathlon, they looked at each other, looked at me, and said, “Well let’s start now.  Let’s get you running.”  I looked at them like they were crazy.  I hadn’t been running in eight years—how did they expect me to pick it up again in just one morning?  But I agreed, and they attached a running blade to my socket and took me out to the hallway.  Dave told me to bounce back and forth a few times so I could get a feel for the blade.  Then he held my hand as we started to walk down the hallway.  After a few steps, he told me to quicken my pace, then faster, then faster.  And then, something magical happened.  For the first time in eight years, I broke into a run.  Having both feet in the air at the same time was a little jarring, but my fear soon turned to joy when I realized that this was the closest I’d ever felt to flying.  I got to the end of the hall and turned around only to see Dave and Melissa right at my heels, smiling ear to ear.  Dave gave me a huge hug and told me that I was a natural.  Melissa did the same, then looked me in the eye and said, “Big things are about to happen for you.”  In that moment, I felt like crying.  After years of dreaming and wishing that this day would come, I had just run the length of a hallway.  And then a Paralympic athlete and world champion told me that I was good.  Talk about feeling empowered!

I returned to Scheck several times over the next month as I got fitted for a new socket and ordered a running blade.  Then in April, the leg was finally ready for me to take home with me.  I picked it up from the office of a Friday, and while I was there Dave and Melissa asked me if I wanted to do my first 5K the following Saturday.  That’s not entirely true: they didn’t ask me as much as they told me that I would be doing said race.  The two of them have this incredible skill where they can not only talk you into signing up for a race that you are nowhere near ready for, but also make you believe that it is actually a good idea.  I’ve watched them convince another patient to do his first triathlon on a month’s notice; and just this weekend, they met an amputee who came to the race for moral support and persuaded him to walk in the race.  I have to say that after spending so much time with Dave and Melissa, a lot of this has rubbed off on me as well.  I think that we as people don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we are capable of doing.  But the human body is a pretty incredible thing, and if we decide that we want to push it, I think it can really surprise us.  Fear can be a powerful inhibitor, but if you don’t have time to think about how daunting something is, the role of fear is limited.  Because of this, I now believe that the best way to do your first race is to just jump right in headfirst.

Melissa and I love post-race hugs (2012 Bunny Rock 5K)

After bringing my leg home with me, I spent the next few days running every chance I could.  However, it wasn’t quite as glamorous as I had envisioned it.  I had a hard time getting the socket to fit just right, and whenever my leg started to sweat (which would take all of three minutes) it would become so loose that I would have to stop and take it off.  But having to make these frequent stops wasn’t the worst thing, because three minutes was about as long as I could go before I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest.  I told myself that this learning curve was to be expected, and that it required way more energy to run with a prosthetic than it did to run with two legs.  But that didn’t make the process any easier.  There were many times that week and the weeks that followed when I doubted myself as a runner.  I was frustrated with myself and my endurance, and there were instances where I questioned if this was really something I wanted to do.  But every time that I thought about quitting, I would think about what Melissa told me that very first day I met her.  She saw something in me that I had not yet seen, and as difficult as it was to do, I had to trust that she was right.  Knowing that Melissa believed in me was the reason that I started to believe in myself.  And as soon as I did that, everything began to come together.

The morning of Bunny Rock quickly approached, and I was as nervous as I could ever be.  Dave was right there with me, reminding me to relax, have fun, stand up straight, and smile.  During the 3.1 mile course, I made frequent stops to catch my breath, dump the sweat out of my socket, and make adjustments to my leg.  An hour later, I crossed the finish line and found my parents, my three sisters and the rest of the Blade Runners all there cheering me on.  It had taken a long time (in fact, I may have been able to walk it faster) but I had crossed nevertheless.  Although I was a little disappointed with how the race went, I knew that I could only get better from there.  Plus, I had basically set myself up to win “Most Improved Athlete” for the season.  As far as I was concerned, I had clinched it.

Crossing the finish line (2011 Bunny Rock 5K)

After that race, I spent countless hours at Dave’s office, working on developing a socket that wouldn’t fall off when I sweat.  After a couple months, a few prototypes, and lots of trial runs, we finally perfected the system.  With all the logistical issues ironed out, I was able to run for longer periods uninterrupted.  My stamina began to improve, and I started to get faster and faster.  I joined the Blade Runners for a few more 5Ks throughout the summer and fall, dropping minutes in each race.  By the end of the season, I had cut my Bunny Rock time in half!

As I ran the Bunny Rock 5K on Saturday, I couldn’t help but think back to those first few days I spent running so many months ago.  While I finished this year’s race just shy of my personal best, I couldn’t care less about the final numbers.  I finished this year’s race 30 minutes faster than last year’s, and that in itself is enough reason to celebrate.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since all of this started, as so much has changed since then.  I am proud of how far I have come and grateful for all those who helped me get there.  If this is the difference that one year has made, I can only imagine what the next one will bring.  All I know for certain is that it can only get better.

One thought on “Season Kickoff

  1. So proud of you. The progress you have made in one year is more than most make in a lifetime. So excited to see what the future holds for you and I am hear to support you and cheer you on every step of the way. I love you and am excited for the 2012 season and beyond. I only hope the world is ready for the Hailanator.

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